The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary by Andrew Westoll. Hapercollins 2011.
The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary tells the story of Andrew Westoll’s experiences with the chimpanzees at Fauna Sanctuary over a summer that he spent as a volunteer living and working with the chimps. Along the way, Andrew details the background of the Sanctuary chimps and lets the reader get to know each chimp as an individual. Background information about chimp experimentation brings the reader up to date on the state of chimp research in the United States. The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary is also the story of Gloria Grow, who established the sanctuary in 1997. This trailer by Andrew Westoll gives you a look at the Sanctuary and its chimpanzee residents.
Gloria Grow grew up in a family of animal lovers. Not just lovers, but rescuers. Her father had been deeply moved by the spectacle of his own father beating a work horse and subsequently never failed to come to the rescue of threatened animals. When Gloria was casting about for purpose and meaning in her life, she signed up for an Earthwatch program and travelled to Ellenburg, Washington to participate in a Chimp and Human Communication course with Roger and Debbie Fouts. The experience changed her life. With her vet husband, Richard Allan, she overcame hurdles to establish a sanctuary for chimps on their property near Chambly, Quebec. Visit the Fauna Foundation website here.
Gloria’s new facility was ready just in the nick of time. A large research facility in New York state, Laboratory for Experimental Medicine and Surgery in Primates (LEMSIP), was closing down. The chimps were to be shipped to another research facility, but through the efforts of James Mahoney, approximately one hundred primates were rescued prior to the closure of the facility. Some of those chimps arrived at Fauna Sanctuary.
Chimps in medical research facilities live horrific lives. They are housed in cages just 5 x 5 x 7 feet and isolated from contact with other chimps. Some chimps arrive at research facilities after being raised as pets or performers for their early years. As they inevitably grow into adults and become too large and aggressive for their keepers, they are disposed of. Other chimps were born in research facilities, where the babies, who would normally spend 4 or 5 years with their mothers, are raised in nurseries with other chimps and human caregivers.
When they become research animals, they are injected with viruses (particularly hepatitis and AIDS), and subjected to liver biopsies, often weekly. Not surprisingly, lab chimps are often deeply disturbed and emotional wrecks and exhibit symptoms such as self-mutilation, episodes of extreme aggression and body rocking.
There are now 12 chimps living at Fauna Sanctuary. One is Regis. Regis, was born at LEMSIP in 1988. He was taken from his mother at birth and spent 6 months in isolation in an incubator and then a cage. He has suffered from depression, anorexia and panic attacks.
Another chimp, Yoko, was born in 1974 and was raised in a Missouri circus until he was turned over to LEMSIP at the age of 7. From 1984 to 1991, Yoko had at least one punch liver biopsy per month. In a study to test a nasal spray, he was knocked down with a tranquilizer gun every 2 days for 2 months. Every day in this study, he had a fever. But since it might interfere with the results, he was never even given aspirin. In 1995 he was inoculated with HIV. He endured another 3 lymph node biopsies but no longer participated in any studies.
Over the last 50 years, wild chimpanzee populations have plummeted from over a million to an estimated 200,000 in Africa and are now listed as endangered. Under a special provision, captive chimps are only listed as threatened so that medical research can be continued on them. The wild capture of chimps was ended in the 1970s by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). Captive breeding ended in 1987, but there are still 1000 chimps held captive in 6 biomedical research facilities in the United States. More than half of these chimps are owned by the U.S. government and supported by taxpayers at a cost of millions of dollars. Of the 1000 chimps, more than 90% have been living in captivity for more than 10 years. It is estimated that the last government-owned chimp will die around 2041.
Except for research relating to hepatitis C, the usefulness of research results from chimp experimentation has proved minimal. In 2005, researchers successfully grew the Hep C virus in vitro using a human cell culture, so even that research no longer requires chimps. The Netherlands retired the last of its chimps in 2004, leaving the United States as the only country on the planet to maintain a captive chimp population for medical experimentation.
People who work for chimps such as Gloria Grow and Roger Fouts have been supporting the The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act to free the lost 1000. You can read more about the act at the Project R & R, Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. laboratories, at releasechimps.org. The video by Tom Odda, linked below, outlines the details of the act.
One of the saddest stories about research chimps concerns Nim Chimpsky (November 19, 1973 – March 10, 2000). Nim was the subject of an extended study of animal language acquisition at Columbia University, led by Herbert S. Terrace. Taken from his mother as an infant, he was placed with a human family who were to teach him American Sign Language (ASL), and for five years, he was a member of the household. Although the study was deeply flawed (amongst other issues, his caretakers didn’t know ASL at the outset of the study!) Nim learned about 125 signs and was able to communicate his needs and wishes.
As happens with little chimps, Nim got to be big. When Terrace ended the experiment, Nim was transferred to a research lab in Oklahoma and then LEMSIP. Deserted by the deeply unethical Terrance, the chimp who had been raised with people with no contact with other chimps, suddenly found himself locked in a little cage, signing to caretakers who didn’t know ASL and didn’t care anyway. Nim was finally rescued by the Black Beauty Ranch, operated by The Fund for Animals, a group led by Cleveland Amory, in Texas. Nim died at the age of 26 from a heart attack. There is now a movie about Nim entitled Project Nim produced in 2011. Here’s a review of Project Nim by Dr. Theo Capaldo linked here.